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Preview: A Wall, Two Roads, A Streetcar, and A Hot Tin Roof walk into a yoga studio… March 26, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tennessee Williams, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

– excerpt from the poem Mending a Wall by Robert Frost

 

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

– excerpt from the play “Camino Real” by Tennessee Williams (The first sentence is also the epitaph on his grave)

There are people in the world who will say you haven’t read poetry until you read Robert Frost, and Southerners in the world who will say you haven’t seen a play until you’ve seen Tennessee Williams. Born 77 years and over 2,000 miles apart, these two literary icons shared a birthday (3/26) and way with words that can make you pause, look again…and again. Once or thrice you may even wonder how many ways you can see/interpret/understand what has been said, and how it applies to your life.

One of Robert Frost’s most famous, and perhaps most popular, poems is about the “road not taken” – even though people often mistake it for “the road less traveled.” The poem is about as much about perspective as it is about the way we tell a story (and the fact that the way we tell a story can change the story).

Maty Ezraty once said that every yoga practice should be like a good story. And, with any story, each character has a different purpose and a different point of view. In our practice, each pose/sequence gives each part of our bodies and minds an opportunity to tell their story. There are hundreds of poses and hundreds, thousands – maybe even millions – of ways to move into and out of pose. And each one of those ways gives us another way of looking at the story. The tricky thing is, sometimes we keep coming back to the story the same way. While we may all have a favorite story we read again and again, what happens when we view the story from a different perspective?

“We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

– excerpt from the poem “Mending a Wall” by Robert Frost

Parighasana (Gate Pose) stretches the pelvic area and hamstrings, while also engaging the sides of the torso and abdomen eccentrically (up side) and concentrically (down side). According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, the pose “keeps the abdominal muscles and organs in condition and the skin around the abdomen will not sag but remain healthy. The sideways spinal movement will help persons suffering from stiff backs.” Another aspect of the pose is what happens to the heart area – not only physically, but emotionally.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

– excerpt from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

Swami Rama from the Himalayan tradition said that we have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left side; an emotional heart on the opposite side, which for most of us is on the right; and an energetic heart that connects the two. Additionally, in yoga and other Eastern healing arts, energy for the heart flows through the arms. In Parighasana, we have the opportunity to open up the shoulders (physically) and open the gates on all sides of the heart (emotionally and energetically).

Two of my favorite lines from Robert Frost poems speak of wisdom and delight, and the gift that comes from giving our whole selves. Every time I step on a yoga mat, I experience the wisdom and the delight. I also experience a plethora of gifts. One of those gifts is how the practice affects the mind. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick acknowledges that he is an alcoholic, but doesn’t seem to want to give up his drinking because, “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” But then, as his father points out to him, there is the morning.

Yoga brings peace without the hangover. Another thing to consider is that the practice has a way of opening the heart so we can get to the violets.

“To me, its meaning is simple. The hard, the cold, the oppressive will—at long last—be broken apart by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.”

– Patricia Clarkson explaining way she was quoting Tennessee Williams during a 2009 HRC New Orleans Dinner speech

### NAMASTE ###

What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###

Just…. Look – Part III: Possibilities January 11, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Peace, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose –

– excerpt from poem by Emily Dickinson

“One is not born a genius, one becomes a genius…. One is not born, but rather becomes a woman.”

– excerpts from The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

I grew up hearing, and then using, some variation of the idiom “I wasn’t born yesterday” – meaning, “I’m not naïve enough to buy whatever you’re selling.” It’s a funny turn a phrase, but, just the other day, I started thinking about it seriously. I started thinking about the flip-side of being naïve which, in its extreme, is jaded. I started thinking about the beginner mind versus the expert mind.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.”

–  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, by Shunryo Suzuki

In Zen Buddhism, Shoshin is the concept of “beginner’s mind,” whereby a person is open and receptive to possibilities, because they lack (or suspend attachment to) preconceived notions. I often equate this Zen Buddhist concept to the niyama (“Internal observation”) of santosha (“contentment”) in the 8-limb philosophy of yoga. To the Western mind, being content with something sometimes gets associated with “settling for something” – implying that there is something more and we are missing out. However, in the philosophy of yoga, santosha is accepting and appreciating what is with a certain kind of wonder or awe and, like a child, asking what’s next.

Funny thing is, in gaining experience, maturing, and losing our childish naiveté, we also lose our possibilities.  Turns out, being born yesterday comes with advantages. Being born yesterday means we are more open and more receptive to possibilities.

“There are two who enjoy the fruits of their good deeds in the world, having entered into the cave of the heart, seated (there) on the highest summit.”

– from Katha Upanishad I 3.1

 

“The concept of desire coming from the soul or essence may seem strange since, by definition, the soul is eternal and changeless. But the Vedas explain that the soul has two aspects: it is complete, whole, and eternal, in a permanent state of oneness with the Absolute, and at the same time, it desires to fully express itself and its divine nature in the world.”

– excerpt from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker breaks down the four desires of the spirit. Keep in mind that this explanation includes the idea that there are two parts to the soul – a part that is whole and understands its wholeness and a part that wants to know and be known. The second part of the soul is the part that desires. It desires a purpose; it desires the means to achieve that purpose; it desires pleasure; and it desires liberation. If we have a soul at birth (or, as some would argue, at conception), then that means we have these desires at birth. While there are definitely socioeconomic advantages and disadvantages which affect prenatal and neonatal experiences (and, in doing so may appear to limit a child’s possibilities right off the bat), the bottom line is that if we were born yesterday we haven’t had time to learn limitations and fears. If we were born yesterday, we have acquired very little of life’s baggage. Thus, our lives are unwritten books.

As I approached my 50th birthday, people kept asking me the same basic questions: How does it feel? Any regrets about your life? My answers were the same: I could spend a whole lot of time thinking about how my life is different from what I expected, but, bottom line, I never pictured so much of what is beautiful and wonderful in my life at this moment.

Yes, at different moments in my life I had some wild ideas about what I was going to be when I grew up and I’ve spent a good portion of my life letting those wild ideas go. Or, so it would appear. A few years back, however, I realized the reality is that I am living a lot of my wild ideas. They came true – just not the way I expected them. When I think about it, the only places where I have “regrets” are the places where I have not been open and receptive to possibilities.

The video below is opportunity to explore the possibilities in your heart. It is an opportunity to step back from all your baggage and all the things you think (consciously, unconsciously, and subconsciously) about yourself, your life, and your circumstances. Step back from all the things you’ve learned you can’t do. Step back from all the things life’s hard experiences have taught you that you can’t have. Regardless of your age, sex, gender, ethnicity, ability, or other demographic, step back from who you think you are – and, therefore, step back from all the things you believe that you can’t be.

(Click here if you don’t see the video. A transcript of the video is coming soon. This exercise includes a body/chakra scan.)

 

### NAMASTE ###

Can You Handle the Truth? December 23, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 40-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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This time last year I wrote, “2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.”

Little did I know how true that statement would be.

Oxford Dictionaries define “true” as an adjective meaning “in accordance with fact or reality…genuine…real or actual…accurate or exact…. in tune.” True can also be used as a verb when applied to something that is bringing “(an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.” It originates from Old English words meaning “steadfast, loyal” and is related to a Dutch word meaning “faithful” and a German word meaning “loyal to.”

I could continue going down the rabbit hole, examining the meaning and origins of all the target words, but ultimately we know the truth when we see it…or hear it. Or do we?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking promotes the power of insight and intuition; of knowing without knowing why we know something is true. Yet, Malcolm Gladwell also points out that, “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” In other words, the brain gets in the way of the heart.

Our brains make us humans notoriously bad witnesses. Our brains fill in the gaps to make sense of puzzles we’ve created and, theoretically, to preserve the idea that we are not ignorant about things we are supposed to know. We make up stories, even when we’re the only one paying attention to the story in our head. In Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote, “The brain needed to stay incessantly active, and if it was not getting its usual stimulation…, it would create its own stimulation in the form of hallucinations.”

Oxford defines “hallucination” as “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.” This last year, really the last two – going on three – years, it’s felt a little like the quality and state of being true was a hallucination. People say one thing and do something completely opposite. People accuse one another of lying. Technology allows us to morph our faces, our voices, our words, and to create realistic holograms of people who are no longer living. More and more it seems that everything real is an illusion.

Of course, the idea that everything we are experiencing is a dream, an illusion, a delusion – or a computer generated program – is nothing new: It’s part of the foundation of many philosophies, including yoga. Another part of philosophies like yoga and Buddhism is that there is a path to seeing things clearly, and that seeing things clearly is liberation.

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.”

– excerpt from Hallucinations by Dr. Oliver Sacks

The fourth and final section of the Yoga Sutras focuses on liberation. Liberation, as Patanjali describes it, involves lifting the veil of ignorance and seeing the truth about everything, including ourselves. Patanjali also explains that the barrier/veil of ignorance can be thinned and then dissolved by birth, herbs, mantra (ajapa-japa), tapas (practices of intense discipline/austerity), or meditation. (YS 4:1)

Clarity; right view; seeing the truth – whichever way you describe it, it seems to be lacking in our current version of reality. And, as the war on truth continues, more and more people will desire it. If you are longing for a new year where you are in tune with your core values and connected to your intuition, consider starting 2019 with a practice, like yoga, which fits into that final definition of truth (see above): something that is bringing (an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.

The following practices include at least three of the liberating methods mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras:

Monday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and Potluck, Common Ground Meditation Center (PLEASE REGISTER HERE)

 

Tuesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Solar Powered Sadhana with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat (Please register)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Year’s Day – Restorative Yoga with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary (please register, only 2 spots left as I post this!)

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, New Year’s Day – All-Humanity Class with Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions (Please register)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM, New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, New Year’s Donation Class with Indu Arora, Devanadi Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Vinyasa, Minnehaha Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Greg Hines & live Cello music by Cory Grossman, Yoga Sanctuary (please register)

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM, New Year’s Day Sankalpa with Justyn O’Neill, Radiant Life Yoga (please register)

12:15 PM – 2:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA (open to YMCA  members and their guests)

12:30 PM – 3:00 PM, Sankalpa~New Year Intentions workshop with Shelley Pagitt (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2019 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga (please register)

4:30 PM – 6:30 PM, Restorative + Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

 

Saturday, January 5th:

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM, New Year’s Intention Setting Ritual with Amy Patee (please register)

 

Sunday, January 6th:

9:30 AM – 5:30 PM, Vincent Yoga New Year’s Retreat: A Day of Reflection, Illumination and Resolution

 

My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event that is not listed above.

 

~ OM SHANTI ~

RELAX * RELEASE * REST * RENEW * HEAL – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2019 December 18, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Advent, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Football, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Taoism, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Start the New Year with a 2-hour retreat into yourself. Enfold into the wisdom of your heart and let your heart’s desire unfold. Be inspired.

Despite our modern day penchant for fireworks and parties, a new year begins much as it ends: quietly. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we observe the secular New Year when much of nature is hibernating. We hustle and bustle, struggling to start, continue, or end. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, things and beings are waiting.

Waiting…it seems so passive and unyielding.

Waiting…it is easy to forget the importance of resting, relaxing, and being still…letting things germinate and take root.

Waiting…. In many philosophies and religions, including the Abrahamic religions, great emphasis is put on the importance of waiting, specifically because something or someone is coming.

Yet, no one really wants to wait for our dreams to come true. We want it now! And, we want to be actively working towards that goal. Unfortunately, sometimes, we forget about the importance of waiting…resting…reflecting…planning.

As one year ends and another begins, we are given the opportunity to reflect and plan. We can reflect on the events of the previous year – and how we dealt with them. We can plan for a new year of events – and how we want to deal with them. Making a resolution, even informally, seems natural to some and inevitable to others. It can also seem futile when you consider that (according to some statistics) only about 8% of people who make a resolution actually follow through with them.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep?

Resolutions are just like any other goal or dream that has a lot of expectation attached to it. In order for us to succeed we have to be all in – otherwise, we falter at the first obstacle. In order to be all in, we have to understand what it is we really want or need.

Ask yourself, how does this goal or desire serve me?

Every goal, every desire, every resolution has a purpose. Tapping into the power of the purpose, how the goal or desire serves us, allows us to connect to the underlying intention. Intention is compelling. Intention is the driving force that allows us to see an opportunity to succeed where we might otherwise falter.

Consider this sports analogy: Let’s say you’re a football team with a stellar passing game. Everybody knows your team has a stellar passing game; but, when you’re in the zone it doesn’t matter that the other team is trying to sack your quarterback or intercept every pass – there’s always a pocket, there’s always a hole. The problem comes in when you’re not in the zone and/or when you’re playing a team with an exceptional defensive line. A professional team, ideally, has practiced other options. However, even the pros play to their strengths and, sometimes strengths become blind spots. When it feels like everything is on the line – but nothing is going their way – that’s when we hit our blind spots. And, even the pros can end up in a situation where they’re strengths no longer serve them. Even the pros may forget that there are different ways to achieve the goal.

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker outlines a formula for success which he calls the Creation Equation. Simply stated, the sum of the intensity of your desire plus the intensity of your efforts to achieve the goal has to be greater than the intensity of the resistance. Keep in mind, the resistance can come from a lot of different sources – including other people. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the intensity of the resistance increases when your desire gets misplaced or transferred.

In the aforementioned sports analogy, for example, both teams have a strong desire to win. Each team’s desire represents a portion of the other team’s resistance. When practicing, however, the team with the stellar passing game focused their desire on having a stellar passing game. On the other hand, the exceptional defensive line focused on stopping everything. When it’s game time, the latter doesn’t care what you throw at them, they’re intense desire (i.e., their focus and their intention) is on stopping everything – by any means necessary. That intention puts them in the zone.

Every year, at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations, I lead a guided meditation which includes a group sankalpa that I then incorporate into my Saturday classes at the YMCA. The word sankalpa means will, determination, vow or intention. It can also mean resolution. But, the difference between the English and the Sanskrit is that within the Sanskrit word there is the vow and the way to achieve the vow, there is a guiding principle and the dedication to following it. A sankalpa combines the desire with the effort. To connect and to stay connected to that highest vow, it is important to clear the mind and focus/concentration/meditation on the heart’s desire.

When outlining the philosophy of the yoga in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali put particular emphasis on the combined power of the last three (3) limbs of the practice: focus, concentration, and (perfect) meditation (YS 3:4-6). He also mentioned that there are five (5) ways, including tapah (“training the senses” or “austerity”) and samadhi (“meditation”), to reach higher awareness (YS 4:1).

The New Year’s Day japa-ajapa mala if 108 Sun Salutations is a vigorous practice which fits into the category of tapah and can involve samadhi. While not vigorous, a Yin Yoga practice, which involves settling into a special series of poses for long holds, also fits into the categories of tapah and samadhi. Both can clear the mind so that you can bring your full awareness to your heart’s desire.

My 2019 New Year’s Day mala is full, but I will post other practice opportunities. Also, I am excited to offer a Yin Yoga practice with guided mediation (5 – 7 PM). If you are interested in joining me for this special candlelight practice on New Year’s Day, please email me (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com).

WHO: Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: A Yin Yoga practice addresses the deep tissue and connective tissue through a special series of supported poses held for 3 – 5 minutes. Props and awareness of the body creates an opportunity to relax the outer musculature. This candlelight practice also includes guided meditation.

WHERE & WHEN: Nokomis Yoga at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

WHEN: Tuesday, January 1, 2019

COST: This is a donation-based event. Since space is limited, please email Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com to save your spot.

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR! ~

Quick Thank You and Announcements May 4, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Sukkot, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”

– from Song of Myself (2) (1892 version) by Walt Whitman

First, the thank you:

Officially speaking, Monday (4/30) was the last day of the 5th Kiss My Asana yogathon. I am happy to say, we helped Mind Body Solutions meet their goal of $60K while also raising awareness about their work and mission! Thanks to your support Mind Body Solutions will be able to:

  • Create digital content and resources for students and teachers around
  • Partner with organizations supporting cancer patients, victim-survivors of sexual assault, and more
  • Provide workshop scholarships to aspiring adaptive yoga teachers
  • Offer free yoga classes to military veterans and their loved ones
  • Launch new programs like Living ‘til the End
  • …and so much more!

I am eternally grateful to everyone who donated online or via the donation-based classes. (If you wanted to donate, but missed the end of the month, this link still works!!!)

I am also super grateful to everyone who read (and sometimes commented or liked) the 22 posts featuring poetry-based practices. However, we’re not finished. I still have 8 more posts featuring 8 more poetry-based practices and, hopefully, you will join me as we finish out this journey.

Feel free to keep commenting (online and in person). Also, please keep yoga and Mind Body Solutions in mind if you or someone you know is dealing with trauma, loss, and disability. (Don’t forget: Mind Body Solutions works with everybody – included health care providers and other caregivers!)

And now, the announcements:

The George Wellbeing Center is officially open! I will be teaching the very first group class in this first-of-its-kind YMCA holistic health center tomorrow (Saturday, May 5th) beginning at 11:30 AM. (Psst, some classes – including mine – are free during the month of May!)

Located on the second floor of the Dayton Y (in Downtown Minneapolis, see link above) and developed in coordination with the George Family Foundation, the Center was made possible by a grant from Bill and Penny George. It will feature services based on three (3) core tenets:

  • Be Aware: Assessments, programs, lectures and coaching that empower clients to be central agents of their own health.
  • Be Centered: Exercise and movement programming, mindfulness and meditation and other mind-body approaches.
  • Be Restored: Personal services such as massage and acupuncture to aid in chronic stress reduction, pain relief and exercise recovery.

Services are open to the public and, as I mentioned earlier, some classes will be free during the month of May!

Please join me 11:30 AM on Saturdays for a yoga class focused on preparing the body and mind for meditation (or contemplation). This class will include asana (seat/pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath/breath extension) in a way that transfers the practice from the mat to the cushion and into your day-to-day life.

And, one more….

Mark your calendars, because the next Sukkot/Gratitude retreat will be September 28th – 30th. Details to follow, but just wanted to give you a heads up, because we are back on the road! (So, maybe give yourself an extra day before or after!)

### THANK YOU & NAMASTE ###

 

CAPTAINING BODY AND SOUL – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #17 April 18, 2018

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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;”

– from “Man In the Arena”  by the then former U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck started his most famous book (The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth) with the words “Life is difficult.” He then outlined the attributes of a fulfilled human being. Bottom line: Life requires a lot of work, discipline, non-attachment, love (as an action). In some ways, Peck highlighted the same values President Theodore Roosevelt emphasized in his “The Strenuous Life” and “Citizenship in a Republic” speeches. These same qualities are valuable on the mat, as well.

Yoga, the philosophy as well as the physical practice, can be hard. Our bodies and minds fall into the rut and the groove of our habits, building strength and flexibility that may also contribute to stiffness and weakness. Our bodies want to bend where they are already flexible and resist where we are strong. If, however, we continually and habitually engage our bodies in this way we develop imbalances which ultimately breakdown the body. Yoga is one way to transcend unconscious behavior patterns, because it brings active awareness to our personal tendencies. But, that awareness doesn’t magically appear when one steps on the mat. It’s not petrichor (the smell of rain on dry soil). One must work for that awareness.

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

– from “The Strenuous Life”  by U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

People who only like to do the things they are already good at doing tend not to appreciate their first yoga experience – unless they get really lucky. That said, people who only like to do the things they are already good at often benefit the most from yoga, because right off the bat they are being challenged.

Yoga has no shortages of challenges. Obviously, there are challenging poses and sequences in some styles and traditions. However, no one style or tradition has a monopoly on challenges. Yin Yoga and restorative traditions are also challenging, because one of the most challenging parts of yoga (especially for beginners) is staying present on the mat and in the body. Equally challenging, in this day and age, is being still and being quiet.

We live in an over-stimulated world that often values quantity over quality, and being right over everything.  Being right looks different in different situations; but, ultimately, it compels people to look at others, on and off the mat, to find the epitome of everything. The problem – and thus the challenge – is that nobody else has your body, nobody else has your mind, and therefore nobody else has your practice.

Yes, absolutely, there are alignment principles, movement, and action related to every pose and every sequence – and this is valuable information a teacher passes to a student. But that’s only the beginning of the practice. Ultimately, the practice is what happens when the student starts to process, synthesize, and activate the information in their own body and mind.

Another big challenge is applying elements of the philosophy – which at first glance seem to have nothing to do with the mind-body. One of the reasons my early teachers said, “How you do yoga is how you do life,” is that each of us comes to the practice with instinctual and conditioned behavior. Whether we think about it or not, each of us also steps on the mat with a moral compass, which we use to guide us in the way to treat things, the way we treat other beings, and the way we treat ourselves. Starting with the beginning of the philosophy means we mindfully gut check out thoughts, our words, and our deeds on the mat. If we get in the habit of being mindful about our actions (karma) on the mat, we are conditioning ourselves to behave in a similar fashion when we are off the mat. Truly, it doesn’t matter which compass you use. It could be the 10 Commandments (which hold significance in all three Abrahamic religions) or the Buddhist precepts, just as easily as it could be yoga’s yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) and the niyamas (internal observations).

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

One of my favorite parts of practicing yoga is the opportunity to engage the story behind the poses. This can be a literal and energetic engagement, focusing on the inspiration behind the poses or it can be a symbolic engagement, focusing on attributes that come to mind based on the name of the pose.

Virabhadrasana is most often translated into English as “warrior pose.” This is fitting given the story that Shiva, in a fit of anger, tears out a lock of his hair and creates a great warrior. But, the word “virabhdra” literally means “hero friend.” So, when you move into a Hero Friend Seat, it is interesting to consider the qualities of a hero friend and those of a warrior, as well as the times when we recognize warriors as friends and the times when we do not.

Some people may feel a little odd or uncomfortable with the idea of embodying the qualities of a mythological or historical character. This way of practicing may feel too much like moving through the Stations of the Cross or observing Passover – and, in fact, these are similar ways of engaging the mind-body-spirit. These are also ways of practicing that move beyond the physical; which makes people uncomfortable. But, the practice is always more than physical. At the very least, it is physical and mental – at the very most it boundlessly extends into every aspect of our beings.

William Ernest Henley and President Theodore Roosevelt were both soldiers who, at different times in their lives, had to deal with physically debilitating dis-ease. Their words continue to inspire others, because they speak the truth about the human spirit. “Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered.” To paraphrase Prince Henry, it is knowing that, if you have the will, anything is possible. If nothing else, focus on that quality of yourself.

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees notice how the strength and power of your body at this moment. Focus on what you can do. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. No, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released. You are engaging what is solid and true within you, what is solid and true all around you.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up – as if you are going to spring off the mat, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Push through your hands and feet to stretch the full body in this position. Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and use the hands on the thighs to press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Allow feel the weight of your upper body being engaged by gravity. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and press up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, isometrically engage the adductors by squeezing the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Make sure your back thigh is firmly engaged and lifting away from the floor (unless, you are modifying for stability). Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). This pose is sometimes referred to as “Anointed Warrior,” indicating the warrior is blessed, prepared, and ready.

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog. While in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push the hands and left foot into the earth to create more space. Then push through the hips and both heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate how gravity pulls on the lifted leg and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog.

If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

Exhale and step the right foot in between your hands for Low Lunge. If the foot needs help reaching the space between the hands, lower the back knee so that you can use your hand to scoop the leg forward. (NOTE: Never go back with the hands, as this will cause you to crawl off the mat as you move through the practice.) Take a deep breath in to extend the spine and then use the exhale to heel-toe the right foot towards the right. At the same time you are creating space for the hips, lower the back heel down to the mat (even if that means you have to step the back foot up). Remember, the hips will go where the toes point them; so, place your feet in the position that allows the hips to be parallel to the short/front edge of your mat. One your feet are flat on the floor, inhale your arms and heart up for Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I).Let your hands melt down if you are manually adjusting your hips. As you inhale, isometrically squeeze the thighs towards each other. As you exhale, use the front foot and leg to push the front hip back. Use the back foot and leg to push the back hip forward. Press down to inhale arms and heart up. Make sure the sits bones are pointed down. You can even repeat the earlier hip adjustment from Crescent Lunge/Anointed Warrior. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale hands to the mat and step back to Downward Facing Dog or step forward into a Forward Fold.

From Downward Facing Dog, firmly push your hands and feet into the ground, glide your body forward until the shoulders are over the wrists and the arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lengthen your neck so that your cervical spine continues the line of the rest of your spine and your head is lifted, eyes forward. This is the beginning of Plank Pose. You can always bring your knees down for extra support, but keep the thighs firm. If you are skipping the arm balances, repeat Half Lift / Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend with arms reaching forward and wrists flexed so that palms face away from the body. This can also be done seated in Staff Pose.

Lengthen the spine so that it is parallel to the mat and you have similar engagement to Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. Spread your fingers and toes, push into your thumb and first finger. Resist the earth and use that resistance to push the shoulders into your metaphorical back pockets. Rotate your elbows towards your belly button and broaden across the collar bones. Find Equal Standing/Mountain pose in this position. Resist the urge to lift your hips away from the mat or let them flop down. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale to Child’s Pose, inhale to the backbend of your choice, and exhale to Downward Facing Dog and repeat the sequence on the left side, starting with the Three-Legged Dog.

After the second set of Warrior I and Dog poses, use an inhale to lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes if you are in Downward Facing Dog). Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step or “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. This pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Captain this boat and give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath in and follow the breath out. Allow yourself to be held by the breath and float within its embrace.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changing – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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(Happy (belated) birthday to Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K Smith!)

“Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,
 

Then lets it go.”

from My God, It’s Full of Stars (2.) by Tracy K Smith

 

“We learned new words for things.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Practicing yoga in outer space would be really different from practicing on Earth. (I know, it sounds obvious, but when was the last time you were on your yoga mat and thought about practicing in outer space?)

I make note of how practicing yoga would be different in outer space, whenever I’m using a space-related theme or whenever I want to make a point about how people are working – or not working – during their practice. It is all too easy to let gravity do most of the work in certain poses and in certain styles. But, gravity is like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey; the encounter changes the person more than it changes the monolith (or gravity).

One of the big changes that results from practicing yoga is an increased awareness of one’s mind and body, and how they work together. This increase in awareness, however, comes from the very deliberate engagement of the mind and body. It is all too easy in a vinyasa practice to let gravity and momentum dictate the practice, but then we lose the awareness that is an inherent part of the practice. The more we practice, intentionally and mindfully, the more we realize that we are not dealing with a flat void: “It goes on forever, and…”

Now, thinking about engaging the body, some of the differences between practicing in space and practicing on Earth become really obvious. For instance, microgravity would eliminate some of the weight-bearing benefits of the physical practice, which would affect bone density – something already negatively impacted by aging and by being in space. Also, microgravity would change a person’s ability to isometrically engage muscles and joints, which can affect muscle and joint strength – again, something already negatively impacted by being in space.

Isometric engagement occurs when there is static contraction of the muscle (i.e., the muscle is working) without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. This type of engagement can be categorized as overcoming, where the muscles are actively working against an immovable object, or yielding, where a person chooses to hold a position while encountering resistance.

Whether you realize it or not, there is a lot of isometric engagement in the physical practice of yoga. Squeezing your legs towards each other in Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) is isometric engagement. High Plank Pose and Four-Limb Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) involve isometric engagement. Something as simple as rooting down into your sits bones can be isometric. However, while pressing down to go up can create space between your hips and your ribs when you are on Earth; pressing down to go up in outer space creates more space between your sits bones and your practice surface.

For eons, on Earth, isometric engagement has been used to strengthen and rehabilitate muscles. In fact, it is sometimes prescribed as physical therapy, to reduce muscle atrophy when someone is in a cast. On the flip side, NASA research has shown that isometric engagement in space fails to decrease muscle degradation in astronauts. So, while some poses and sequences might be easier in space, the easiness comes at a cost.

“My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Just as practicing yoga in outer space is different from practicing on Earth, practicing yoga in the United States in 2018 can be different from practicing yoga in India in the early 1900’s. People are engaging the practice in very different ways, starting with the concept of group practices and including the loss of meaning that comes from translating words based on their effect rather than their intention. Just like practicing in outer space: it can be fun, but it can also cost us some of the benefits that have allowed the practice to endure.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that yoga is meant to adjust to accommodate the people practicing it. The physical practice (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is situated in the philosophy so that it prepares the practitioner for deep seated meditation. Originally, that meant that just as everybody’s mind and body are different, everybody’s practice was slightly different. So, it makes sense that since the day-to-day engagement of our bodies and minds in different than that of earlier practitioners, our physical practice should be adjusted accordingly. However, every adjustment has to be deliberate and mindful. If it’s not, we run the risk of losing awareness and other benefits of the practice. When you move through the practice, consider all the things that change if you have little to no gravity keeping you grounded.

My God, It’s Full of Stars by Tracy K. Smith

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees notice how you are connected to the earth. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. No, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up – as if you are going to spring off the mat, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Push through your hands and feet to stretch the full body in this position. Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push the hands and left foot into the earth to create more space. Then push through the hips and both heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate how gravity pulls on the lifted leg and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and use the hands on the thighs to press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Allow feel the weight of your upper body being engaged by gravity. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and press up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, isometrically engage the adductors by squeezing the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Make sure your back thigh is firmly engaged and lifting away from the floor (unless, you are modifying for stability). Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog and then, as you firmly push your hands and feet into the ground, glide your body forward until the shoulders are over the wrists and the arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lengthen your neck so that your cervical spine continues the line of the rest of your spine and your head is lifted, eyes forward. This is the beginning of Plank Pose. You can always bring your knees down for extra support, but keep the thighs firm. If you are skipping the arm balances, repeat Half Lift / Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend with arms reaching forward and wrists flexed so that palms face away from the body. This can also be done seated in Staff Pose.

Lengthen the spine so that it is parallel to the mat and you have similar engagement to Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. Spread your fingers and toes, push into your thumb and first finger. Resist the earth and use that resistance to push the shoulders into your metaphorical back pockets. Rotate your elbows towards your belly button and broaden across the collar bones. Find Equal Standing/Mountain pose in this position. Resist the urge to lift your hips away from the mat or let them flop down. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale to Child’s Pose or to Downward Facing Dog.

From Child’s Pose or Downward Facing Dog, use an inhale to lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes if you are in Downward Facing Dog). Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step or “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. This pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath in and follow the breath out. Allow yourself to be held by the breath and float within its embrace.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely given. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith and I have a few things in common, the least of which is an appreciation of sci-fi, David Bowie, our (shared) middle initial – and how we like to use it. Earlier this year, in an interview with Vogue, Smith noted that being appointed poet laureate made her realize, “I haven’t written enough about blackness, yet it’s part of my consciousness and my lived experience[.]” I recently joined Thomas J. Bushlack for Episode 6 of “Contemplate This!” Apparently, this is something else we share. Time may change me….

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

SEEKING vs SAVORING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #15 April 15, 2018

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“My desire
is always the same; wherever Life
deposits me:
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body”

– from Desire by Alice Walker

“Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough”

– from Expect Nothing by Alice Walker

These days everyone comes to yoga seeking something. It might be a healthier body and/or mind. It might be peace, ease, and well-being. It might be better sleep. It might be more flexibility, it might be strength. It might be redemption. It might be___________ (fill in the blank). You name it and we are seeking it.

Then, we get on the mat and discover there’s a plethora of benefits we didn’t even know existed. Thus, we seek more. We desire more, and as much as we set ourselves up for success we are also setting ourselves up for disappointment – and, according to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, we are setting ourselves up for suffering.

Historically speaking, the Buddha would have known about (and maybe even practiced) yoga. But he didn’t find it a practical path away from the suffering caused by desire and ignorance. So, he offered the Noble Eightfold Path. While I understand, historically, why yoga was not (and sometimes still is not) accessible and practical for certain individuals we are now surrounded by teachers like Matthew Sanford, Dianne Bondy, Jessamyn Stanley, and even Diamond Dallas Page (yep, that Diamond Dallas) who are committed to remind us that yes, the practice is accessible. And, I firmly believe that if you practice on the mat, you practice off the mat – especially if you start at the beginning.

The first two limbs of the philosophy of yoga make up a moral compass based on 10 ethical components. Even if you have never heard of the yamas (external restraints, also known as the universal commandments) and the niyamas (internal observations), they will sound very familiar to the Western mind, because they are already part of the bedrock of our society. The yamas are a dedication to non-harming, truth, non-stealing, following in the path of God*, and non-hording/non-grasping. The niyamas are a dedication to cleanliness; contentment; practices that build spiritual, mental, and energetic heat (and the heat itself, which is also discipline and austerity); self-study; and letting all efforts return to the source/God.

When Patanjali outlined the philosophy in the Yoga Sutras he referred to the combination of the final three niyamas as Kriya Yoga – union through purification. Q: Of what are you being purified? A: Any and all obstacles that stand in the way of your ultimate Goal. If you practice, on or off the mat, you will find time and time again that one big obstacle is desire.

Desire is tricky, because it can be both helpful (e.g., will and determination) and harmful (e.g., blind ambition or obsession). Some would say that desire leads to progress and survival of the species. However, desire can also bring about our demise. What balances will and determination is a solid connection to our ultimate Goal and the second niyama: contentment (santosha).

In American English we often associate “being content” with “settling” – which implies that there is something more or better that we are missing and (rather than keep struggling to achieve it) we just “settle” for what’s in front of us. But, being content actually means being satisfied, grateful, even happy for what’s in front of us. I associate it with the awe, the wonder, and the curiosity of a child. It is, to me, like the Zen Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind” (shoshin).

 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

When we approach the practice with the mind of a child doing something for the first time, everything is fascinating and everything is possible. When we approach the practice with that sense of wonder, we practice whole-heartedly, with our whole bodies, our whole minds, and our whole spirits. When we approach the practice as if we are an expert who has mastered what we have already done and, therefore, will master what we have not yet done, our expectations cloud our overall experience. Sometimes the clouds enhance the sunny day, but sometimes they are storm clouds – covering the sun and moments from drenching us.

“It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:”

– from Desire by Alice Walker

 

Desire + Expect Nothing + Don’t Be Like Those Who Ask For Everything by Alice Walker

(Practice Time ~30 minutes)

Begin as if you are beginning for the first time. Empty your mind of expectations. Be grateful for this moment, which is unlike any other moment. Standing on your hands and knees, bring your big toes to touch. Spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Breathe into your heart and consider what is new about this moment. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet. Consider the different directions in which you can move.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Give thanks for something about this moment.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, squeeze the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come. Notice that your heart is open and supported.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog and then lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes) on an inhale. Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step of “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. Ths pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. Give thanks for the gentle compression and massage that starts to calm your system and prepare you for the final meditation.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath in and follow the breath out. Listen to the song the breath sings.

“Don’t be like those who ask for everything:
praise, a blurb, a free ride in my rented
limousine. They ask for everything but never offer
anything in return.”

Don’t Be Like Those Who Ask For Everything by Alice Walker

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states, “do yoga. share yoga. help others.”

*It is very common for people to refrain from offering an American English translation of Bramcharya, the fourth yama. There is also a tendency to only associate this part of the practice with celibacy (or, as indicated by the similar Buddhist precept, “refraining from illicit sexual activity). Recognizing the observation as being connected to a higher reality, whatever that means to you at this moment, reveals that celibacy is often a by-product of the awareness.

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

LOVING THE PRACTICE – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #14 April 14, 2018

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I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that it is a life-long practice. I love that the practice, like a laboratory or a playground, is a safe place to explore. I love that at the heart of the practice…is more practice, which prepares you for more practice. And, I also love how each part of the philosophy prepares you for the next limb, so that, when practiced simultaneously, each limb takes you deeper and higher. My favorite analogy of this is that it’s similar to climbing a tree:

You use the lower limbs to climb up to point where you can settle in and look around. In settling in, you stand or sit on one limb, while holding on to the trunk and a second limb. You can continue climbing, climb back down, or move out to the side, all depending on how you use the limbs.

I love that even someone new to yoga can recognize it as practice. Just today, in fact, someone commented that it was helpful to think of it as a practice – rather than a habit. I love that! I love too that when you get in the frame mind of “practicing,” (rather than perfecting, or even mastering) you are forced the stay present. The body changes and the mind changes, therefore, the practice changes. Even if you practice a tradition where the sequence stays the same, everything else – including your awareness and understanding – changes from one moment to the next, one breath to the next, one pose to the next, one…. You get the idea.

Truly practicing yoga requires staying present and observing oneself. In fact, svadyaya (self study), is one of the internal observations (niyama) at the beginning of the philosophy of yoga and, as such, it is one of the cornerstones of the practice. If you study yourself, it you invest the time, you will find your practice. I say that, because I truly believe there is a practice for everybody and a practice for each and every body (and a practice for every mind). It is not “one size fits all,” despite how it sometimes appears from the magazines and boutique studios.

There are practices that use a lot of props and practices that barely use props. There are practices where people spend a lot of time lying down on their backs, practices where people spend a lot of time sitting, and practices where people spend a lot of time standing. There are practices where people hold poses for long periods of time and practices where people seem to be in perpetual movement. There are practices where people do the same thing every time and practices that change with the weather. There are practices with music, and practices without music. I could go on, but, let me step back.

In the early part of the 20th Century, when Sri Krishnamacharya started a resurgence of Hatha Yoga practice in India, people practiced together, but they practiced what they needed. So, individual practice in a group setting – something you rarely see in the States, unless you are practicing Ashtanga Mysore-style. When Krishnamacharya started sending his students out into the world to teach, they essentially taught their own personal practice: alignment-focused, vinyasa-focused, breath-focused, and person-focused. Don’t get me wrong, none of those first practices to hit the Western fell very far from the Kirshnamacharya-tree – they all include elements of alignment, vinyasa, pranayama, and individual awareness. However, there is also just enough division for the yoga traditions to look like the various schisms which produced Protestant churches.

And, personally, I love that! Not the division. No, I love that there are so many styles and traditions – so many paths.

all the many paths that
lead into / the light that
shines bright inside of
me and you

– from Be the Change (Niraj Chag’s Swaraj Mix) by MC Yogi

Pick up a copy of B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and you will find poses and sequences for targeting certain body parts, various ailments, and for people who want to progress in the practice. Pick up Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health and you will find the same type of information, plus details on to use props in order to enhance your practice. Pick up David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual and you will find detailed instructions on how to modify (and progress) within one of the most physically vigorous physical practices. Pick up T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga or Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti Yoga and you will find the physical practice mixing with the philosophy in a way that takes if off the mat. Pick up Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life or Sarah Power’s Insight Yoga and now, the practice is clearly meditation. Pick up Jinjer’s Stanton’s Yoga For Every Room in Your House and you quite literally discover that you can practice yoga anywhere!

On and on it goes – and that’s the point. The practice is perpetual and eternal – if you practice. But it is way too easy not to practice.

I was fortunate in that my first teachers were like Yoda: they focused on what a person could do. They didn’t focus on what they (the teacher) could practice; they focused on what each individual could practice. We were still challenged, but we were challenged in a way that encouraged us to play, explore, study, and practice. The result of such engagement was an awareness of all the different ways someone could practice. And, that awareness, led to a deep acceptance – which is the path to true love.

“I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,”

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mike Eisner)

(Practice Time ~ 20 – 30 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Breathe into your heart and consider what you can appreciate about this moment. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet. Notice what you can love about your body and your mind in this position.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Move, as if this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Give thanks for something about this moment.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, squeeze the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come. Notice that your heart is open and supported.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend. Again, appreciate this bit of vinyasa-krama (step-by-step progression).

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. Give thanks for the gentle compression and massage that starts to calm your system and prepare you for the final meditation.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Take a moment to notice how falling in love with your practice allows you to fall in love with yourself.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is a giant Easter egg (because it’s Valentine’s in April) and part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###